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And then there were three - Hyundai Elantras, that is.

Convinced that there's strength in numbers, Hyundai recently expanded its Elantra compact car lineup to include a more expressive coupe and a rather Euro-style hatchback, badged as the Elantra GT.

Is this a case of just lopping off the trunk and calling it a day? Read on as we spend some quality time with Hyundai’s replacement for the slow-selling Elantra Touring.

What is it?
Based more on the European-market Hyundai i30 than the North American market Elantra sedan, the GT could stand for Great Trunk, seeing that it has more to do with utility than Grand Touring. But that’s okay. Offering a touch less cargo space than the model it replaces, it makes up for the deficit in other areas.

Powered by a 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine with 148-horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque, the GT's engine again hardly lives up to its nomenclature. Still, checking in at 2,784 lbs., the GT makes the most of the available power thanks to either a standard six-speed manual or, as equipped, a $1,000 six-speed automatic with a manual shift mode.

One spec worth noting is the Elantra GT's fuel economy rating of 27/37 mpg. This reflects a downward rating from the 28/39 mpg rating that the company referred to at the vehicle’s launch in the fall of 2012. Why? Hyundai came under quite a bit of pressure when the EPA accused the Korean automaker of massaging its fuel economy numbers, something we think has become worrisomely prevalent across the entire industry. As always, your mileage may vary.

Our test GT was feeling flush with the addition of a Style Package that featured 17-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and panoramic glass sunroof. Inside, a Tech Package included a navigation system with rearview camera, automatic climate controls and a proximity key system.

What's it up against?
With its five-door configuration, Elantra GT's natural predators include such established segment stalwarts as the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Mazda Mazda3. If you are into driver engagement, the others may be your ticket. But for overall practicality, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Secondary competition comes from the Subaru Impreza and the Toyota Matrix.

How does it look?
Hyundai describes the Elantra GT’s looks as a further evolutionary view of the company's “fluidic sculpture” design language. To our eyes, the ‘GT appears like the love child of the Hyundai Azera and Mazda3. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Appearing more like name-only siblings of the other Elantras, the GT takes some design cues from others and runs with them for its own unique style.

Starting with the new enlarged and enhanced trapezoidal face of the brand, the leading edges of the car blend into exaggerated fender flares, which nearly intersect with character lines that run up the sides up to the rear. From the rear view, other styling touches lend a definite European flair where others might have just decided to drop the ball instead.

Keeping in line with Hyundai’s value-added philosophy, the addition of a full glass panorama sunroof goes a long way in letting the buying public know the brand is remaining focused on providing innovative looks and features at an attractive price point.

And on the inside?
Further proof that the Elantra GT is an Elantra in name only, the five-door's driver workstation is vastly more satisfying than what's found inside its siblings. More upmarket materials and increased sound deadening speak a premium feel not always associated with the Hyundai badge.

The perforated leather-covered front seats were very supportive especially during three-hour stints behind the wheel, but we were less impressed with voice controls that offered moderate success rates in trying to find out where we wanted to go. They eventually worked, they but could use a touch of refinement to best access an otherwise easy-to-use navigation system's more in-depth functions.

The rear seats accommodate two or three passengers with a 60/40 split fold down for increased cargo capacity. A two-staged affair, the seatbacks can be folded forward for an angled cargo area, or the seat bottoms flip forward so the seat backs can lay flat with a slight reduction in overall capacity. Total with the rear seats in normal position is 23 cubic feet or 51 cubic feet in the down mode.

But does it go?
The Elantra GT’s sporty looks don’t necessarily translate into sporty performance, but we don't want to entirely discount this car’s abilities. Performance is decent in non-Eco mode. But push that ActiveEco button and suddenly the 1.8-liter feels as though you have tossed an anchor out the back hatch. Offering engine and transmission mapping changes, it doubles as a form of behavior modification, keeping the driver constantly aware that he or she may be a driver behaving badly.

In more aggressive driving, need to stand on it to get things motivated here. A bit sluggish off the line, the Elantra GT needs to be whomped to make things really move. The moment you finally exercise your right foot is when this car gets up and goes. We were able to do a fair amount of interstate weaving past slowed traffic during a week of mixed driving, where we saw the car achieve a 31 mpg average, better than its EPA estimated average of 30 mpg.

Hyundai's new Flex Steer electric power steering offers drivers the ability to adjust the steering's weight at the press of a button. Though we welcome the adjustability, the steering suffers from an on-center deadness that makes the tiller feel totally numb. Things do get progressively better the further from center, but a go kart-like Mazda3 the Elantra GT is not.

Similarly, the Elantra GT's sport-tuned suspension is less, well, sporty than described. Handling is about par to the class thanks to a segment-typical strut and coil spring suspension up front and a lower-tech torsion axle out back. Ride quality is good, with excellent bump absorption.

Why you would buy it:
Fully equipped and value priced is just the way we would like to go through life.

Why you wouldn't:
It might have a hatchback, but the Elantra GT is hardly a hot hatch.

Leftlane's bottom line
Fully loaded compacts have long been the norm in the old Continent. We are happy to see them trickling over to these shores.

With the Elantra GT, Hyundai has figured out what might be the winning combination for a high-line vehicle with a relatively low bottom line. We just wish its driving characteristics lived up to its nameplate.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT base price, $19,395. As tested, $25,365.
Style Package, $2,750; Technology Package, $2,350; Floor mats, $95; Destination, $775.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.





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